Her face was boyish, I saw it out of the bus window. Her hair was short in a feminine way and she carried a bike, which she secured to the rack on the front of the bus. The bus was very crowded and she paid the driver, stood next to me at the front. Almost immediately the girl began speaking on her phone. The bus stopped and a large man squeezed in between us, nearly pancaking the girl into the partition behind the driver. I did him a favor and told him someone was standing next to him, beneath his arm as it were. I had to stretch my head around the man to look at all the people on the bus, the nondescript faces.
‘Hi, dad. Listen, I have a weird question for you.’ The girl didn’t look around as she spoke, her eyes stayed at her feet or out the front window and I felt okay stealing glimpses of her. The girl had a soft round face, like a fresh pebble in a cool river, and she asked her father if Ben had killed himself.
‘Did Ben kill himself?’ She had repeated this into the phone, her father must not have heard her. She spoke the words with such ease, as if it were only trivial — a pointless question. Did Ben kill himself? The other conversations on the bus never faltered, nondescript faces yapping away never giving notice. ‘I just wanted to know like, since I was young when it happened, if you had sugarcoated it for me. No, no. I was with Rebecca and she had mentioned it. We were talking about something else, it was a passing comment.’
The bus jolted to a halt, passengers clamored on and off and I stole a few more glances, realizing she didn’t care. ‘Yeah. It was just, my stomach dropped hearing about it. I mean, I hadn’t known.’
‘You know how earlier in the week I said I was feeling really excited? Like on Monday when I was just full of energy, hyperactive and all? Well it’s evening out now. What? I’m on my way home, I was just at the bike shop. No not like that. But Rebecca says I should, too. It’s just, if I started going to a psychiatrist I feel like it would take so much time. I want to and I think I need it, but it takes so long for them to diagnose and finally start seeing results. No dad, I’m not going to kill myself.’
The bus stopped again. It had emptied out some and me and the girl had both been able to take seats. She put the phone away and a block later she got off. I sat and watched her take her bike from the rack. I hadn’t been thinking of anything, my mind was clear and from somewhere outside in the glistening dark emptiness came the scene of me following her onto the sidewalk. I had to get the bus driver to open the door again.
‘Hey!’ I jogged up to her. She was standing next to her bike. ‘What made you think it was okay to talk about that on the bus?’ She didn’t answer and the cold wind whirled around us and not another soul was in sight, the sidewalks and streets empty. ‘I’m just curious why you didn’t care. It was so personal. Why wouldn’t you care if people heard all of that?’
‘What’s it matter to you?’
‘Nothing. Not at all.’
‘They why do want to know?’
‘Because it was so beautiful and open honest and I can’t understand. There isn’t anyone around now so you can tell me.’
‘See that’s just the thing you don’t understand. Why didn’t you ask me while we were on the bus? What were you so afraid of?’
I couldn’t think of what to say. I knew what she meant but I hadn’t the nerve to answer, to let that part be seen. She hopped on her bike and pedaled slowly away, gliding down the sidewalks beneath the yellow lampposts.
The sidewalk and side streets were empty and as the wind howled vacant in walls around me I screamed out the answer.